The Latest Fiasco in Israel-US Relations
Everyone is all abuzz about the latest spat between Israel and the US. The New York Times, as well as others, have labeled it a “crisis” and the most serious conflict between these two nations in two decades. I have even read an article which questions whether or not the US has become Israel’s newest enemy!
This matter has certainly gotten way out of hand. So much so that both sides, more or less, are attempting to tamp the fires which it has set off. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has published an op ed piece in the New York Times entitled “For Israel and America, A Disagreement, Not a Crisis” while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who just a few days ago publicly harangued and rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now declares that proposals offered by the Israeli government to resolve this dispute are both “useful and productive.”
Just briefly, what is at the heart of this matter? Earlier this year, in the hopes of jump starting the peace process by a show of good faith toward the Arab world, the Obama administration demanded that Israel cease and desist from any further construction on the West Bank. Of course, in the mind of the Obama administration, as well as in the mind of the Arab world, the West Bank is defined as including all of East Jerusalem, which includes all the primarily Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as well as the Arab ones. After much tussling, the Netanyahu government finally did agree to a temporary moratorium on West Bank construction. Then we arrive at last week’s visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden. Just as this very positive encounter was drawing to an end, a mid-level official of the Israeli Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase for the expansion of Ramat Shalom, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in East Jerusalem; an expansion which would include 1,600 new housing units. To this announcement, Vice President Biden’s reaction was both immediate and severe. On the very same day that he proclaimed the Obama administration’s “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security”, he turned around and expressed his outrage as he condemned the move as “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” Even though Prime Minister Netanyahu responded by stating that he, too, was surprised and embarrassed by this announcement, the Obama administration refused to be placated. The Vice President’s expression of outrage was only to be embellished upon by a 45 minute phone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which she severely chastised him, along with an equally strong statement issued by President Obama. Needless to say, all this was not received very well by the Israeli people. Obama’s approval rating in Israel, which has never been very high, plummeted to the single digits.
First of all, let me state that I fully understand and appreciate the frustration felt by the Obama administration. After all, a deal is a deal. No construction means no construction. I cannot help but wonder whether or not this announcement on the part of the Interior Ministry was a deliberate act of provocation, intended to derail any progress in the peace process. It is no secret that the ultra-Orthodox community of Israel is almost as opposed to the peace process as are Palestinian groups such as Hamas. The major difference between them is that while groups like Hamas will use missiles and bombs to disrupt the peace process, these ultra-Orthodox groups use their political clout and surprise announcements such as this one to try to get their way. AND THAT IS A MAJOR DIFFERENCE – ONE WHICH SHOULD NOT GO UNNOTICED BY THE CURRENT AMERICAN ADMINISTRATION.
All that being said, I believe that once again, the Obama administration has blown it big time! It is beyond my understanding why they have insisted upon turning this incident from a “disagreement” into a “crisis” – regardless of what Ambassador Oren has to say on the matter. They made that choice when they elected to ignore Prime Minister Netanyahu’s initial reaction to the announcement of surprise and dismay. Instead of working with him to untangle this mess, undoing the obvious sabotage of the Israeli extremists, they decided to proceed as if this was the official course of action of the entire Israeli establishment. Indeed, they worked to push Prime Minister Netanyahu into a corner where he would need to become belligerent rather than cooperative in order to maintain his own dignity.
There is a profound irony in the facts that shortly after Vice President Biden’s trip to the area, the Palestinians went ahead and dedicated the naming of a public square in the West Bank after a female suicide bomber, Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah woman who led the 1978 Coastal Road massacre in which 37 Israeli civilians and an American photographer were killed, and 71 were wounded. And not to be outdone by their West Bank compatriots, Hamas in Gaza conducted a rocket attack on Israel in which a Thai worker was killed, the first Israeli fatality since this winter’s war in Gaza. And what has been the reaction of the Obama administration to all this – SILENCE, COLD, DARK SILENCE. Let us see now: On the one hand a proposed building project, one not necessarily supported by the Israeli leadership, and on the other hand, the official honoring of a terrorist murderess and a lethal rocket attack upon Israeli civilians. Which is worthy of American outrage and condemnation? The building project, of course! What’s wrong with that picture?
What is wrong with that picture is what has been wrong with the picture painted by the Obama administration since day one – and I say this as one who actively supported Barack Obama in his bid for the US presidency. They profess that they seek to broker a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but they are anything but evenhanded. They are beyond quick to chastise and condemn Israel for whatever she does, yet they stand idly and silently by while the Palestinians continue to engage in the most outlandish and hostile of behaviors. And if that were not bad enough, they refuse to learn from their past mistakes. If experience should have taught them anything, it should have taught them that whenever they place heavy demands upon Israel, they have only effectively fueled Palestinian and Arab excuses NOT to sit down at the peace table. No sooner are such demands upon Israel made then the Arabs say that they have nothing to discuss with Israel until those demands are fully met to their satisfaction.
Yet when will the Obama administration place similar demands upon the Arabs, especially upon the Palestinians? I am waiting, but my patience is running thin. What demands, you may wonder? How about a total cessation of all attacks upon Israelis? How about a cessation of the smuggling of weapons into Gaza? How about an end to the rearmament of Hezbollah? How about abiding by the terms of the Road Map to Peace, and putting an end to the teaching of hate to their children, both in their schools and through their children’s television shows? I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Peace in the Middle East can never be achieved through US intervention if the US policy is one which antagonizes the parties involved. Rather than beat them up, the US must learn how to work with them, as partners, in removing the roadblocks which stand in the way of bringing peace, security, and freedom to all the residents of the area, both Israelis and Palestinians. Needless to say, this is not an easy task. It will require much hard work and endless patience. There is no room for the US to engage in throwing tantrums, as it has so recently done. For while Mr. Obama may have gotten some of his frustrations off of his chest, in the end he has not advanced the cause of Middle East peace, but rather has retarded it.